The idea of a Biosphere Reserve

The term biosphere reserve is comprised of biosphere (= a habitat) and reserve (= to preserve). In biosphere reserves, it is not so much about conserving what is already there but about showing how humans can use nature without destroying it.

The UNESCO biosphere reserve Schaalsee is located on the boarder to Schleswig-Holstein between the cities Hamburg, Lübeck and Schwerin. The Schaalsee rests in the centre of the 310 km² large protected area.

Zwei Menschen auf einem Bootssteg gucken auf den See im UNESCO-Biosphärenreservat. © TMV_Kirchgessner

Biosphere reserves are model regions for sustainable development. They are appointed by the UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in connection with the programme Man and the Biosphere (MAB). They comprise a global network of particularly valuable cultural landscapes. Different to national parks, which protect untouched natural landscapes, UNESCO biosphere reserves protect cultural landscapes. Through economic usages like grazing or forestry the scenical character and ecological richness of cultural landscapes are influenced in a precise manner.

Luftbild im UNESCO-Biosphärenreservat Schaalsee © W. Buchhorn
The Schaalsee is the heart of the biosphere reserve and serves as its namegiver.

Since 2000, the Mecklenburgian landscape around the Schaalsee is part of the global network of 748 UNESCO biosphere reserves in 134 countries (as of June 2023). In Germany, there are 18 biosphere reserves. Of which 17 are recognised through the UNESCO. Those areas represent important types of German landscapes and are representative of the variety of habitats as well as the fauna and flora in the country. Every 10 years there is a re-evaluation of the UNESCO biosphere reserves. This is to check if they still adhere to the international standards. Here you can read more about the evaluation of the UNESCO biosphere reserve Schaalsee.   Evaluation of the UNESCO biosphere reserves Schaalsee.

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Schaalsee as a landscape type represents the central area of the Baltic Beech Forest. Close to nature beech- and carr forests, boglands, numerous lakes and still waters but also culture-depending ecosystems like pastures, wet meadows and fields create this varied cultural landscape.

Farbenpracht im herbstlichen Buchenwald © R. Colell
Close to nature beech forests are typical for the Biosphere Reserve Schaalsee.
Close to nature beech forests are typical for the Biosphere Reserve Schaalsee.
Aussicht auf See und Uferlandschaft. © R. Mönke
The Mechower Lake is one of many large and small bodies of water in the lanscape around the Schaalsee.
The Mechower Lake is one of many large and small bodies of water in the lanscape around the Schaalsee.
Typische Moorlandschaft. © H.P. Anders
Various marshlands are typical for the region around the Schaalsee.
Various marshlands are typical for the region around the Schaalsee.

In 2003 the concept for the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Schaalsee was ratified. It functions as the basis for the development of the region and was updated and extended in 2019. The development of the concept for the Schaalsee-region and its addition were created in a public dialog in conjunction with the people of the region. Lots of projects, which enhance the region of the Schaalsee in an ecological way as well as provide a better quality of life, were already realised. At the same time, the promotion of the region as a special recreation place was achieved.

Each global UNESCO Biosphere Reserve follows three functions:

Protective function

The goal is to contribute to the conservation of the natural process and the biological diversity. Negative developments, like the rapidly progressing extinction of species, should be worked against. The focus of nature conservation is the maintaining of landscapes and their ecosystems, the protection of genetic resources und the diversity of the ecosystem. Furthermore, sustainable usage of the available natural goods, like water, soil and air are of importance.

Developmental function

In supporting a sustainable development, the societal and economic developments of the region should be strengthened. This includes the formation of regional value creation chains as well as close to nature and location appropriate farming of the landscape. Biosphere Reserves as model regions offer the possibility to venture on new paths, to try innovative environmentally friendly technologies and to develop sustainable ways of land use.

Logistic Support

The interaction of economic usage and the development of sustainable habitats is important for research and education. Through monitoring, the effects of anthropogenic influences on representative ecosystems are researched. Biosphere Reserves are understood as educational hubs. The people of the region are offered a chance to actively participate in the model region of the Biosphere Reserve.

The development zone covers 19,994 ha (64.5 %) of the area of the Biosphere Reserve. A sustainable regional development is at the foreground in this economical and recreational space. The development zone is declared as a protected landscape area.

The maintenance zone covers 9,257 ha (29.9 %) of the area of the Biosphere Reserve. It protects especially valuable areas of the cultural landscape that are supposed to be conserved and developed through considerate land use. These areas are largely declared as nature conservation areas.

The core zone covers 1,749 ha (5.6 %) of the area of the Biosphere Reserve. Here the development of nature without interference by humans stands in the foreground, so that wilderness can develop. The core zones are usually within the nature conservation areas. (all data from 2020)

The tasks of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve go beyond the protection of nature and environment. A sustainable development of the region as well as education and research are part of the main tasks.

To equally work on these extensive tasks, biosphere reserves are structured into three zones: the development zone, the maintenance zone, and the core zone. The tasks of nature conservation are predominantly situated in the care and maintenance zone, whereas the sustainable development of the region is focused in the development zone. Research and monitoring as well as education take place in all three zones.

The idea of the Biosphere Reserve in detail- realisation in the Biosphere Reserve Schaalsee

Anlage von neuen Kleingewässern am Orstrand von Zarrentin © M. Jährig
Close to Zarrentin small bodies of water are developed into habitats for amphibians, insects and other species.

Protection of nature and environment

Since the appointment of the biosphere reserve in 2000 more than 1,500 ha of bog area and multiple lakes and water courses have been restored to their natural state, as well as more than 70 still waters which have been redeveloped and newly laid out. Approximately half of the area of the biosphere reserve is farmland with very productive soil. Here the task is to align the vital economic branch of agriculture with a sustainable ecological development. While the proportion of ecologically managed grassland areas in the Schaalsee biosphere reserve has increased in recent years, organic agriculture has so far hardly played a role in arable farming. Another focus of the landscape development is the conversion of forests into semi-natural deciduous mixed forests. 

© TMV/
From touristic no-mans-land to the insider tipp for nature lovers.

Development of the region

During the time of the inner-German border, a development of the Mecklenburg Schaalsee region was not desired. As few people as possible should live in the border region. Tourism was not only undesirable, it was forbidden. In the meantime, the people of the region have succeeded in developing the Schaalsee biosphere reserve from a tourist-no-man’s-land to an insider tip for nature lovers. This was achieved through respect for nature, so that sea eagles, kingfishers, cranes and many other species are still at home in the region. Environmentally friendly, cosy holiday apartments and tourist offers, from bike rentals to direct-market farms, can be found at the partners of the biosphere reserve. Their offers stand for quality, environmental friendliness and regionality.

Junior Ranger auf einer Wiese mit Büchern und Lupengläsern. © N. Luckner
Junior-Ranger in action, during a game of geo-tag about the variety of species.


Education is one of the core tasks of a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The aim of education for sustainable development is to enable people to think and act in a sustainable way. Therefore, in the biosphere beserve Schaalsee special attention is paid to long-term educational projects. The rangers look after several junior ranger groups, in which children and adolescents get to know nature on their doorstep, ecological relationships and their own ways of influencing things. There are also long-term partnerships with schools and kindergartens or so-called brook sponsorships, in which groups of children take on the sponsorship of a body of water in their hometown. Here you can find more informationen about our educational offers.

Further information on UNESCO biosphere reserves can be found on the following pages:

UNESCO Biosphere Reservers

Federal Agency for Nature Conservation